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C.A.R.E.S., Fly Five Curriculum, The Mindful Student

Ways to Cope With Challenging Feelings

Ways to Cope With Challenging Feelings

Big feelings can seem insurmountable at times—but there are many ways to cope. Helping your students through challenging emotions can be an opportunity to gain trust as they practice openness and vulnerability. If a student is having challenging feelings, there are many ways to help facilitate difficult conversations: through encouraging mutual respect, asking questions when you do not understand how your student is feeling, and trying to see from their point of view before offering your thoughts (Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching, n.d.).

It is important to name emotions so that children can recognize they’re not alone in experiencing them—others are experiencing these emotions as well. This gives your students greater autonomy over their emotions and helps them to understand how they show up in the body. As an exercise, naming the eight basic emotion words from Plutchik’s wheel can become a simple everyday practice that can help students identify what is important to them (Karimova, 2021).

Ways to Cope With Challenging Feelings

How to Cope With Challenging Feelings at Home

Starting conversations about challenging feelings before children are in the midst of a strong emotional response can help them to gain the tools they need to cope. Here are some flexible strategies that help with discussing challenging feelings at home:

  • Give it a name. There are opportunities to normalize discussions about feelings while sitting around the dinner table. How do we name and talk about our emotions? What do they look and sound like? Giving our feelings a name helps us to better describe what it is we’re experiencing, and in return we get the support that's necessary (McElhaney & Allen, 2001).
  • Validate and relate. Without minimizing your child’s feelings, acknowledge that their emotions might not feel great, but they will pass. Give an example of when you felt angry or upset, so that they know it’s okay to feel deeply (Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching, n.d.).
  • Identify mood boosters. Activities that involve talking about what makes someone happy, like singing a song, playing outside, or reading a book, can be identified as “mood boosters.” When your child is experiencing a challenging time, remind them of these moments. (Derek Bok Center, n.d.).
Ways to Cope With Challenging Feelings

How to Cope With Challenging Feelings in the Classroom

Moments of stress or challenging feelings in the classroom can be some of our greatest opportunities to learn more about our students and ourselves. With long days and demanding schedules it is normal to have outbursts that feel uncomfortable for students, or even to us personally. When difficult emotions make their way into the classroom consider the following strategies:

  • Practice emotional regulation. Using mindfulness techniques, like deep breathing, can help someone calm down during a difficult situation. Practice taking inhales through the nose and exhales out the mouth as a class, so that students feel brave enough to try it on their own.
  • Use an emotional planner. Using the eight basic emotions, starting an “emotional planner” can be a purposeful way to identify and describe where challenging feelings began. Describe the situation that caused the emotion to come up, write the feeling and variance of intensity, and reflect on a plan for what happens next.
  • Remember that all emotions have a purpose. Remind students that all emotions, even the uncomfortable ones, have a purpose. Tell students to remember the purpose of each emotion to help them figure out how they can express their feelings in a constructive way. Start an emotion mural in the classroom where students can use different colors to post what they are feeling. This can be a reminder that emotions are important, but that they also come and go.

When we relate to students and offer tools to work through challenging feelings, it gives them more autonomy over their emotions. It is important to remember our own coping mechanisms with challenging feelings and how we model them for students. If difficult feelings arise, try to stay in touch with how you’re feeling. Being aware of our own emotions can help protect our well-being as well as prevent a challenging situation from driving a negative response (Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching, n.d.). Through this framework, students can learn to be more confident in their ability to express themselves and communicate their wants and needs in a productive way.


Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. (n.d.) Key moves. Harvard University. https://bokcenter.harvard.edu/inclusive-moves#navigating-difficult-moments

Karimova, H. (2021, May 20). The emotion wheel: What it is and how to use it. Positive Psychology. https://positivepsychology.com/emotion-wheel/

McElhaney, K. B. & Allen, J. P. (2001). Autonomy and adolescent social functioning: The moderating effect of risk. Child Development, 72(1), 220–235. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1551976/

Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. (n.d.). Difficult dialogues. https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/difficult-dialogues/


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